S. Marien (S. Mary's)
Community ID
Alternate Names
Gandesheim (939); monasterium S. Mariae Virginis vor Gandersheim (1076); ecclesia S. Mariae, domini et dominae (1229); Gandersem (1293); unser Vrowen closter (1331); Gandersemensis (1377)
Hildesheim (939-1570)
Medieval Location
Gandersheim; The convent lay in the duchy of Braunschweig-Wolfenbuettel.
Corporate Status
S. Mary (the convent also had altars to S. Pantaleon, Anna, and Thomas)
Date Founded
973 (939, according to Kramer)
Date Terminated
1570, October 1
Religious Order
Benedictine (c. 950-1000)
Benedictine (see foundation field/ contributor's notes)
Foundation Information

S. Marien was founded as a daughter house by a collaborative effort of the Abbess Wendelgard of the imperial chapter of canonesses at Gandersheim and the bishop of Hildesheim. The foundation was consecrated by Bishop Thiethard of Hildesheim in 939. It is unclear whether the initial foundation observed the Benedictine rule or followed a more canonical form of observance. It may also have followed the rule established by Benedict of Aniane. Abbess Gerberga, the successor of Wendelgard, expanded the existing buildings of the convent and established a regular Benedictine observance in the convent for 30 nuns (Stumpf, 222). This expansion may be connected with a fire of 973 that destroyed the chapter-church in Gandersheim; after this the church of S. Marien may have served the canonesses as well as the nuns here. From 973 on S. Marien was apparently regarded as a regular Benedictine convent by the rulers and historians of the area(Stumpf, 233). However, Stumpf asserts that the community gradually developed into a chapter of canonesses; until the reform of 1482 the community was referred to frequently as "secularis ecclesia" or "wertlikes stichte" (Stumpf, 233). After 1482, however, reform movements reasserted a strict Benedictine observance in the community. Abbesses were elected by the community, confirmed by the imperial abbess at Gandersheim, and consecrated by the bishop of Hildesheim (Stumpf, 235). The abbess possessed her own property and had her own curia.

Notable Heads

The founding abbess was Wendelgard (933-954), according to Stumpf (222). She was followed by Gerberga II (949-1001), a niece of Otto I. She expanded the existing buildings and established a regular Benedictine monasticism for 30 nuns in the abbey (Stumpf, 222). The abbesses of the community were: N. (June 7, 973); Reinburga (d. 1031); Ida (1031); Symodis (12th century); Udalhild (1145); Gisela (1227?-1229); Adelheid I (c. 1236; 1242-1257); Mechtild von Hohenbuechen (1263-1277); Berta I von Hardenberg (1280-1285); Sophia (1291-1305); Elisabeth I (1308-1312); Adelheid II (1312-1346); Gertrudis I (1350-1354); Berta II von der Soese (1372-1384); Gertrudis II von Grone (1400-1429); Elisabeth II von Rusheplaten (1429-1461); Adelheid III von Bothmer (1463-1477); Margarete von Ruscheplaten (1482-1484); Gertrud von Bortfeld; Elisabeth Leyneman (1485-1486); Margarete Dernedden (1486-1509). From 1476-1486 the abbesses were nuns from Lammspringe.

Population Counts

Abbess Gerberga II established a regular Benedictine convent for 30 nuns. Around the middle of the twelfth century the number of inhabitants shrank from 30 to 20 (Stumpf, 233). A document of the imperial chapter of Gandersheim from May 31, 1274 records 8 names of nuns in the community of S. Marien. In the early fifteenth century besides the abbess and sexton there were listed only two or three nuns. According to Stumpf, the decline in numbers was due to the movement of the community to a more canonical form of observance (Stumpf, 233). In 1544 and 1546 there were eleven nuns, seven lay-sisters. In 1570 at the time of dissolution the convent held 10 inhabitants including the prioress (Stumpf, 234).

Priveleges & Papal Exemptions

A Papal exemption was received from Pope Innocent III on June 22, 1206.

Dependency Of

From the time of its foundation as an abbey under imperial protection until its dissolution, the convent belonged to the proprietary convents of the cathedral chapter of Gandersheim, and this status as a convent under its patronage remained unaltered (Stumpf, 222-223). The chapter was required to provide the new foundation with help and protection. Throughout its history, S. Marien retained a strong dependence on the imperial chapter at Gandersheim. The abbess of the imperial chapter held the right of confirmation of the election of abbesses of the convent (Stumpf, 230). Canons of Gandersheim performed the majority of spiritual functions for the convent from the fourteenth century onwards. Joint processions with the canonesses of Gandersheim are also recorded in the "Registrum chori" of the convent. The two communities also had ties of spiritual confraternity between their members (Stumpf, 230).

Other Ecclesiastical Relations

The influence of the bishops of Hildesheim were important in the community since its foundation. The convent also had connections to the Bursfeld Congregation, although it never officially joined the congregation and observed only aspects of the Bursfel observence (Stumpf, 231). The abbess of the convent held rights of patronage over the following churches: Mitlingerode in Osterode, in Düderode in Osterode, in Lewe (Levede), in Utzleben, Sebexen in Osterode, and in Söse in Osterode. In 1145 under Abbess Udalhild a chapel was errected in Sebexen in the district of Osterode, over which she acquired full rights of patronage in 1352. In Söse the abbes Bertradis held the right of patronage over the chapel of S. Mauritius until 1375. The churches in Derenburg and the village of Böhnhausen, which were a gift of the imperial Abbess Sophia I from the property of the chapter of Gandersheim weere confirmed by King Heinrich II. Priests from S. Marien oversaw the liturgical duties in these churches (Stumpf, 240).


On October 22, 1542 the convent experienced its first Lutheran visitation.


Abbess Gerberga II provided the initial endownment for the community. Emperor Otto II also acted as a benefactor.

Secular Political Affiliations

The convent also had to defend itself against the claims of the rulers of Braunschweig. In 1531 Maria, a princess of Braunschweig, was elected abbess. The convent was affected by the measures of several 'interest groups,' including the bishops of Hildesheim, papal legates, the local dukes, and the abbess of the imperial chapter (Gandersheim). Since the tenth century, the advocacy for the convent was assumed by the advocate of the imperial chapter of Gandersheim. In 1134 Count Siegfried IV of Boyneburg served as the head-advocate of the imperial chapter and its proprietary convents. On May 3, 1259 the imperial abbess Margaret acquired the right of advocacy over the chapter from the counts of Wohldenberg. The Welf family acquired the right of advocacy over the chapter and its proprietary holdings with Duke Albrecht I of Braunschweig-Lueneburg. From the fifteenth century, the dukes attempted to extend their influence over the convent on the basis of their protection and involvement in the reform movements. Thus by 1482 the reform of the convent could only occur with the permission of the duke (Stumpf, 231). In 1570 the duke dissolved the convent without giving any thought to the rights of the imperial chapter.

Social Characteristics

The convent was composed of women from the lower nobility and from the bourgeoisie. The eight nuns mentioned in 1274 all came from the lower aristocracy, among them the families of the curia, from Gandersheim, Gladebeck, Hardenberg, Hattorf, Sehlde, and Woltorf (Stumpf, 234).

Relative Wealth

The convent faced economic difficulties in the late fifteenth century due to a succession of abbesses with short-terms in office and the growth of the community. Building measures placed pressure on the financial strength of the community (Stumpf, 226). Duke Heinrich the Elder (1491-1514) intended to move the convent to Brunshausen and unite both communities and their goods. The conventual buildings were to be given to the Franciscans for a new foundation. In the face of the opposition of the abbess and the cathedral chapter the plan was never implemented (Stumpf, 226). In 1563 the convent held less than 30 hides (1 hide = 120 acres) of land; in 1482 records indicate that the convent controlled over 170 hides (Stumpf, 229). S. Marien was treated as a freehold and was burdened by the raising of taxes on the land. The convent was assessed a payment of 20 Gulden in 1448 and 15 Gulden in 1476 (Stumpf, 231).


Abbess Gerberga II of Gandersheim provided some of her personal property in Main as well as in Sonderhofen and Baldersheim, which had fallen to her mother, Judith of Bavaria, through a gift of Otto I. This established the foundation for the community's later property holdings (Stumpf, 228). A document from the twelfth century, falsely purporting to date to June 7, 990 and to the reign of Otto III, mentions other properties from the foundational period of the convent's history. From the earliest period the convent had possessions in Mittlingerode, Förste, and in Osterode, Mackenrode, Gelliehausen, Göttingen and Oldendorf near Einbeck. Besides the convent's holdings in land and pasture, it also developed the settlement of Nova Villa to the East (Stumpf, 229). The convent's possessions were increased through gifts of Emperor Otto II, who bestowed his properties from the old imperial holdings in Ambergau, north of Seesen. The previous imperial properties probably provided the foundation of the convent's landed property holdings (Stumpf, 223). The convent further acquired property in Derenburg, Utzleben and in Halberstadt, as indicated in a diploma from Heinrich II dated September 17, 1014. The convent also received gifts from the cathedral canonesses in the areas of Osterode and Göttingen. To the east of the convent lay areas directly worked by the convent: the settlement of Nova Villa. According to Stumpf, the narrow range of the convent's property holdings and its close dependency on the imperial cathedral hindered an independent development of the convent (Stumpf, 223). The community controlled three estates or economic complexes: in the south, its possessions around Osterode; in the north, the possessions around Bornhausen/Seesen; and in the east, the possessions in Derenburg (Stumpf, 229). Holding of the convent were divided between the abbesses' holdings and conventual holdings (Stumpf, 235). The economic administration of the abbess's possessions was overseen by the abbatial steward, who from the thirteenth century belonged to the conversi of the convent (Stumpf, 235).

Other Economic Activities

The convent had a school for both its novices and the education of girls, who were given to the convent specifically to be educated. A balance sheet from the sixteenth century records the sale of handwork, specificallly embroidery, weaving, and knitting, as a source of income (Stumpf, 234).

Literary Works

Nothing is known about the monastic library of this community in its early period. In 1477 the convent established a new library, and the records show 45 book titles, most of which were dictionaries, commentaries, and handbooks (Stumpf, 240).

Early Documents

An undated document on pergament from circa 1300 lists the possessions of property belonging to the convent in Echte and Sebexen (Stumpf, 229). A diploma of Otto II, dated to June 7, 973, concerning the first foundation of the convent from 939 records that nuns lived here, who followed the Benedictine rule as established by the Abbess Gerberga II in 973 (Stumpf, 232).

Art & Artifacts

An undated description from the sixteenth century refers to crosses and chalices as well as a statue of the Virgin with a crown and scepter made of silver and an Agnus Dei of gold among the treasures of the convent (Stumpf, 242). A seal of the convent from the twelfth century exists, which depicts the Virgin Mary seated with a large nimbus and without child. In her left hand she holds a scepter of lilies and in her right a globe with a cross. The legend reads: Sancta Maria A Virgo In Gandersheim (Stumpf, 247). Several seals of individual abbesses also exist.

Architecture & Archaeology

The conventual buildings were first erected in the Ottonian period. The conventual buildings lay to the east of the city, outside the city wall, southeast from the chapter of canons in Gandersheim, according to a Diploma of Otto II circa 973. The founding buildings were erected in the abbecy of the founding abbess, Wendelgard (933-949), and were completed with the aid of Bishop Thiethard of Hildesheim (Stumpf, 222). A new church in the Gothic style replaced the older Ottonian building in 1274. The church was divided between the men's choir in the east and the nuns' choir in the west (Stumpf, 241). The nuns' choir was in the upper story, as in many other German convents. The dormitory was located to the west of the Church. A porter's house and houses for the priests were located on the north side of the conventual enclosure. In the east were the gardens (Stumpf, 242). In the late fifteenth century the convent erected a new refectory and dormitory. After the dissolution of the convent in 1570, its land and buildings went to the "Paedagogium illustre" in Gandersheim, which was erected as a preliminary stage to a university there. The convent's goods later fell to the University of Helmstedt.

State Of Medieval Structure

Only a few architectural ruins remain of the convent.

Manuscript Sources

Landeshauptarchiv Wolfenbüttel. St. Gandersheim, n. 1-2; also Wolfenbüttel Archiv 3 and 4. Reg. imp. I 1550/51. The Staatsarchiv Wolfenbüttel retains the majority of documents. The episcopal archive in Trier contians a psalter (c. 1503), #Abt. 95, 548 (174), which belonged to the community. The Herzog-August-Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel also conatins a Liber precum, written in 1452 by Hennigus Wolpeken and owned by Margareta Ruscheplaten, #Helmst. 1299. 2 (1409).

Published Primary Sources

Annales Quedlinburgenses, ed. G.H. PERTZ, MGH, SS 3, 19-20.
Vita Bernwardi episcopi Hildewsheimensis auctore Thangmaro, ed. G. H. PERTZ, MGH, SS 4 (1841): 754-782.
Chronicon Episcoporum Hildesheimensium, ed. G. H. PERTZ, MGH, SS 7, 845-873.
Vita Godehardi epscopi Hildesheimensis autore Wolfherio prior et posterior, ed. G.H. PERTZ, MGH, SS 11 (1854): 167-218.
Annales Hildesheimenses, ed. G. WAITZ, MGH, SS rerum Germ. 1878, reprint 1947.

Secondary Sources

Geschichte der Benediktinnerinnen
Gandersheim, St. Marien
Die Anfänge der sächsischen Frauenklöster
Handschriftenerbe des Deutschen Mittelalters, vol. 1, p. 288.
SCHAEFER, K. H. Die Kanonissenstifter im deutschen Mittelalter. Kirchenrectlichen Abhh. Hft. 43, 44. Stuttgart, 1907, reprint, Amsterdam 1965.
GAMPL, I. Adelige Damenstifte. Untersuchungen zur Entstehung adeliger Damenstifte in Österreich unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der alten Kanonissenstifte Deutschlands und Lothringens. Wiener Rechtsgeschichtliche Arbeiten 5. Wien-Muenchen, 1960.
SEMMLER, J. Corvey und Herford in der benediktinischen Reformbewegung des 9. Jahrhundets Frühmittelalterliche Studien 4 (1970): 289-319.
GOETTING, H. Das Benediktiner(innen)kloster Brunshausen, das Benediktinerinnenkloster St. Marien vor Gandersheim, das Benediktinerkloster Clus, das Franziskanerkloster Gandersheim (GSNF 8, Die Bistümer der Kirchenprovinz Mainz. Das Bistum Hildesheim 2). Berlin-New York, 1974.
PATZE, H. Geschichte Niedersachsens 1. Grundlagen und frühes Mittelalter. Hildesheim 1977: 653-712, 694-700.
KRONENBERG, K. Die Abtissinnen des Reichsstiftes Gandersheim, Bad Gandersheim, 1981.

Miscellaneous Information

Apparently the discipline of the convent began to grow more lax during the eleventh century. Unsatisfied with the conventual discipline, the nun Adelheid left the convent in 1076 for the community of Huysburg, in order to help with the foundation of this reformed convent and afterwards to live as an anchorite there (Stumpf, 223). In the first decades of the twelfth century, reform was introduced in the convent of Gandersheim. In 1118 a Saxon Reform Synod was held in the convent under the supervision of the papal legate Kuno von Praeneste. A document of Archbishop Heinrich I of Mainz dated to July 4, 1145 also indicates a return to the original Benedictine observance in the convent. However, in the thirteenth century the convent appears to have gravitated towards the freer constitutions of a chapter of canonesses. The abbey appears to have continually vascillated between a regular versus a canonical form of monasticism. In the late fifteenth century, an attempt was again made to reestablish strict Benedictine observance in the convent. The reform had to be agreed to by the imperial abbess. In July 1451 the imperial abbess hesitantly agreed to this reform, pressured by the papal legate and the bishop of Hildesheim and fearing the reduction of her proprietary-rights in the exempt convent. However, the abbess of S. Marien, Elisabeth von Ruscheplaten, opposed this and requested a letter of protection from the abbess of Hildesheim on February 6, 1452. She desired the same benefits as the imperial chapter held, i.e. the ability to participate in the imperial cathedral's development and exemption (Stumpf, 224). Duke Wilhelm the Elder of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, acting as advocate, supported the attempt at Benedictine reform and promoted it. Abbess Elisabeth von Ruscheplaten then resigned from her abbecy (Stumpf, 224). Nevertheless, the planned reform of the convent never came to fruition due to the ensuing contest between two abbesses. In 1452, after the death of the cathedral abbess Elisabeth, two new abbesses were elected for the imperial chapter. The contest between the two abbesses, Countess Walburg von Spiegelberg and princess Sophie von Braunschweig-Grubenhagen lasted until 1468 and was the prime reason that a return to the Benedictine rule was not implemented in S. Marien. The canonesses left the convent, although the canons did not; at the same time, Elisabeth of Ruscheplaten remained in the position of abbess, despite her document of renunciation (Stumpf, 225). In the 1480s the reform to a strict Benedictine observance was finally achieved. The initiative in this reform came from the landed nobility. A document of Duke William the Younger from May 14, 1482 records that his relative, Abbess Sophia, with the consent of his father, Duke William the Elder, established the reform in the convent (Stumpf, 225). The Benedictine rule was thus once again strictly observed and established in the community. The convent was reformed along the guidelines of the Bursfeld Union. Those canonesses who did not wish to adhere to the strict Benedictine rule and wished to leave the community were given a pension (Stumpf, 225). At this time the convent was repopulated with Benedictine nuns from the convent of Lammspringe. The Duke of Braunschweig granted the reformed convent his protection and freed it from certain services to the city of Gandersheim. The two remaining canonesses received a monetary compensation, recorded on May 14, 1482. On October 22, 1542 the convent experienced its first Lutheran visitation, but the community showed little inclination to convert to the Lutheran teachings. A second visitation occurred in 1544. By 1568 the convent accepted the Lutheran reform, and the convent was dissolved in 1570. The dissolution of the convent was recorded in a document dated to October 9, 1570, which the abbess and all the nuns and lay-sisters signed (Stumpf, 228). In return the members of the community received pensions. The dissolution of the convent occurred without any previous understanding with the Abbess of Gandersheim. The convent also had a hospital (Stumpf, 242).

Manuscripts Produced

A psalter, dating to 1503, and a Liber precum, dating from 1452 and owned by Margareta Ruscheplaten (a member of the community?) are the only remaining literary works from the community. (see manuscript sources)

Conversi/ae and servants

Canons from Gandersheim were responsible for the priestly duties at the convent. The convent also had its own priests for different altars. The first documented priest was Albertus (1265). The convent also had vicars.

Admin. Notes

HILPISH, Stephanus, 26.

June Mecham
Contributors Notes

The house may have vacillated between strict Benedictine adherence and the more relaxed model of canonesses. Throughout its history, the convent retained close ties with the imperial chapter of canonesses and canons at Gandersheim. The convent built a new organ between 1504 and 1510.

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Date Finished